FLOWERY BRANCH — In Flowery Branch's previous two games, the chemistry between Falcons quarterback Austin Brown and receiver Casey Osborne was off. Whether it was an overthrown pass or a dropped catch, the two couldn't quite get on the same page.
Friday night against defending Region 8-AAAA champion Apalachee, they came together when it mattered most as Osborne caught six passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns as the Falcons defeated the Wildcats 52-35 at Falcon Field.
With the win, the Falcons (3-0, 3-0 8-AAAA) snapped the Wildcats' (1-1, 1-1) 13-game regular season win streak - all region wins - and positioned themselves to contend for this year's region title.
Brown finished the game 17 for 37 passing with 316 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We're definitely getting more comfortable with each other," said Osborne of he and Brown after catching touchdown passes of 39, 36 and 39 yards. "We've been working on new routes during practice and all we have to do is convert and execute in the games."
Falcons running back Jeremy Haley carried the ball 25 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns to complete a balanced attack the Wildcats could never slow down.
It was a back-and-forth game, however, as Apalachee excelled with a one-dimensional rushing attack that produced 560 yards. The Wildcats attempted just four passes, two which were caught for 14 yards and the last intercepted late in the fourth quarter.
With both offenses scoring at will, it was crucial plays made by the Falcons' special team unit and Wildcats penalties - Apalachee had two touchdowns called back due to penalties - that made the difference.
"I saw two teams that refused to lose," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said. "Both teams were making play after play and battled to the end.
"We just defeated the defending 8-AAAA champions that returned four offensive linemen, so this is a heck of an accomplishment for this team."
The Falcons scored on the game's opening possession with an 82-yard drive capped by Osborne's 39-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass.
The Wildcats responded with an 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard run from Alex Camp, who finished the game with 192 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
On the fifth play of the Falcons' next possession, Brown launched a pass downfield to Osborne, who took it 36 yards to give Flowery Branch back its lead, 14-7. Four plays later, the Camp ran 22 yards for a game-tying score.
With 24 seconds remaining in the first half, Brown hit Osborne on another 39-yard screen pass for the tandem's third scoring connection of the half.
Then came a game-changing play.
Falcons kicker Will Monday - who kicked six of his eight kickoffs to the end zone for a touchback - booted a kickoff to the Wildcats' 5 and Apalachee fumbled to the Falcons, who scored two plays later on Haley's 5-yard run with 9.2 seconds remaining. Haley's score gave the Falcons a 27-14 lead heading into halftime after the extra point failed.
"Special teams was the difference," Shaw said. "We got to the ball (on the play before halftime). This was one of those games where you couldn't make a mistake, because if you did, the other team was going to capitalize."
In the second half, Brown connected with Logan Conley on a deep pass for a 63-yard touchdown, putting the Falcons ahead 35-14 after Brown connected with Byron Keith for a 2-point conversion. Just four plays and 1:30 later, Wildcats freshman sensation Stanley Williams ran 40 yards for a score.
Williams, who used his speed to outrun everyone on the field, finished the game with 221 rushing yards and two scores on just 13 carries.
After forcing a punt on the Falcons' next possession, Williams broke an 83-yard run for another score to close Flowery Branch's lead to 35-28.
The Falcons responded with a 37-yard field goal from Monday.
The ensuing kickoff was returned by Williams 99 yards for a score, but was called back to the Falcons' 38 for clipping. Two plays later, the Wildcats turned the ball over when a Falcons defender stripped Camp of the ball.
The Falcons capitalized when Haley ran 44 yards for a score, giving them a 45-28 lead with 11:48 remaining in the fourth.
"The penalties hurt us," Wildcats coach Shane Davis said. "We just made some bonehead plays when the ball was behind us."
Though the Wildcats continued to make plays — Camp broke an 80-yard touchdown run one play into Apalachee's next possession — they ran out of time and turned the ball over on their last two possessions.